kurt's nightmare

Generally, I post once a week. Topics are randomly selected and depend mostly upon whether it's baseball season or not. Other topics will include sex, politics, old girlfriends, music, and whatever else pops into my little brain. If you'd like to read, or ignore, my blog about China: http://meidabizi.blogspot.com/

Location: Dayton, OH, Heard & McDonald Islands

I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. I represent no one but myself, and barely do that. I'm here mostly by accident.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dr. Anonymous

As promised, I'm letting a guest blog here for this entry. His or her name is "Dr. Anonymous," which is sort of like the book that has the title "What is the Name of this Book?"

I posted Dr. A's comments, then followed up with a couple of my own.

I'm happy to let others take advantage of this almost-universally ignored space. And tell your friend!

I was reading Frank Rich's Saturday column in the Times

Slumdogs Unite!

and was struck by the following sentence.

Most ordinary Americans still don’t understand why banks got billions while nothing was done (and still isn’t being done) to bail out those who lost their homes, jobs and retirement savings.
So how do we force the powers that be to help the little people? How do we place our demands front and center? Here's a thought:

Let's organize a grass roots Home-Owner's Bonus movement. The idea is to get millions of homeowners who have mortgages to organize across the country and withhold payment on their mortgage for one month, say, logically, next December. (We could also extend it to, for example, student loan payments and other such obligations).

If 50 homeowners do it, they'll get sued by the banks and incur penalties, etc. But if five million do it, then it becomes a movement, and there's nothing the banks can do about it, particularly if (when) the story gets national press coverage. The banks would not dare complain about low and middle income families saving $1000 or $1500 for their Christmas bonus in light of their $18 billion fiasco. Columnists and pundits (like Frank Rich) would come to our defense, and the administration would have no choice but to back us.

The banks might turn around and recoup their losses from the TARP or stimulus package, but that's the point. It would redistribute the aid to all strata of society, not just reward the very wealthy who screwed up the economy.

We have ten months to organize this. Any thoughts?

Dr. Anonymous


Thanks, Dr. A. Rather than making snide remarks about Arlo Guthrie's account of conspiracy in Alice's Restaurant, I thought I'd post the following article about French students protesting, doing much the same as you propose. Perhaps this tells us something about the different political traditions that inform the U.S. and France?

Protests in France

AFP - Protesting French students joined forces with teachers Tuesday to force President Nicolas Sarkozy to abandon contested reforms, amid fears the movement could touch off wider social unrest.

Lecturers on both the political left and right have been staging sporadic strikes for several weeks in faculties and research labs across the country, in protest at government plans to overhaul their working conditions.

Seven teachers' unions were to lead marches on Tuesday in Paris and other cities, from Marseille to Strasbourg, for the second time in a week, backed by four of France's powerful student unions.

Ten days after massive crowds marched to demand state help on jobs and wages, and with a three-week-old general strike in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, the government is desperate to keep a lid on the student protests.

"The air smells of gunpowder," the left-wing daily Liberation warned in an editorial. "The movement gripping France's universities could well be the spark that sets off the explosion."

France's Higher Education Minister Valerie Pecresse on Monday appointed a mediator to defuse the situation, and has offered to "rework" the contested reform decree, which is set to come into force in September.

But commentators suggest Sarkozy may shelve the reform to prevent the conflict escalating, as he did with a planned high-school reform last year.

"Retreat is in the air," wrote Liberation.

Battered by economic crisis, Sarkozy's approval rating has collapsed to 36 percent, its lowest since he came to power 21 months ago, a poll showed Monday.

The president is already facing a tense few weeks as he prepares for talks with unions on February 18 on helping working families through the economic crisis -- hoping to defuse the threat of further strikes and protests.

The French university row centres on a decree that would transform academics' work conditions.

Chief among the bones of contention, it would force academics to submit their research for assessment by university officials every four years, in addition to the normal process of peer review.

Experts estimate that up to a fifth of French academics, whose time is officially split between teaching duties and research, are no longer productive, but say this goes undetected unless they apply for a promotion.

While accepting the current system needs to change, academics deeply object to being assessed by officials from outside their field, and worry that university bosses will gain huge powers to promote or demote staff at will.

The row has brought to a head wider resentment of Sarkozy's drive to shake up the state university system.

Students are fired up over changes to the syllabus for trainee schoolteachers, as well as planned job cutbacks in education and reforms boosting the financial independence of French universities from the state.

Many researchers meanwhile feel they are being made scapegoats by a government intent on trimming down the public sector, and were stung when Sarkozy described French academe as "mediocre".

On Monday, a dozen of France's 85 universities including the Paris Sorbonne formally asked the government to scrap the reform and relaunch talks with the profession.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


The new Prez recently introduced, or reminded us of, a word that seems not to be much in current parlance: shame. The Greeks were all over this (see, among other places, Plato's Republic); the word we translate as "shame" is "αἰσχρὸν [aischron]." As usual, with a technical term in the Greek moral/philosophical vocabulary, it can't be readily translated by a single word.

Since this is a blog, not an article, I shall not even pretend to have done much worrying about what the facts are here, since—in both cases—I tend to just make shit up anyway.

Obama referred to the recent granting of bonuses (boni? bona?) on the part of Merrill-Lynch et al. (to the tune of $18b) as "shameful." I wonder if this will catch on? Some of us parents still use the cliché (and often rhetorical) "Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"

The basic idea seems to be that if S does some act x that is shameful, S should a) recognize it as shameful b) feel substantial regret without being forced to do so by others and c) make some sort of amends (financial, moral, political, religious, whatever).

So here S is some guy (yeah, we'll make it a guy) who receives, say, a $5 million year end bonus. (The apologists will say "but this bonus is like tips for a server: regarded as part of one's expected income!" The response is "wow! Cool job!") At the same time, S's bank was provided with some substantial funds to avoid bankruptcy and to increase liquidity, generating more economic activity and, ideally, helping people avoid foreclosure in their houses.

Now if someone is giving me a bunch of money, because I've been pissin' it away at the track, and then I take her money and go put it on a horse, that person may well be annoyed. Indeed, that person might well think either I'm a jerk, stupid, not paying attention, or irresponsible to the point of, well, shame.

But note that "shame" is an attitude that, theoretically, one must adopt oneself, not have it forced upon one by another. We may point it out, sort of as a moral hint, but if the person doesn't recognize the behavior as shameful . . . well, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him a moral agent or something. And one needs to recognize the problem before making amends for it.

There are a number of people in the last 30 years or so who have behaved abominably, from Nixon to Osama bin Laden to Kenneth Lay. (Add your own names, or just find a fourth for this bridge club.) It seems rare to see any of these feel ashamed. Jimmy Swaggart seemed pretty ashamed, but like so many others, he seemed mostly to regret having been caught. What is missing is the self's procedure of moral evaluation, and the recognition of moral failure sufficient enough for a person to recognize that he has acted, yes, shamefully.

I'm all for reintroducing this notion back into our ordinary moral/political vocabulary, by which I do not advocate a bunch of people standing outside some theatre showing a controversial movie shouting "For shame! For shame!" First of all, that sounds too much like Grandpa Simpson; second of all, at least in my case, I invariably go see movies that people tell me I shouldn't see, especially if they are picketing (and even more if, as is frequently the case, they haven't seen the movie).

Short of forcing everyone to read the Republic, do I hear a) any votes for reinvigorating a sense of shame among those who act shamefully and b) a method for doing so?